I’ve always been skinny.
For the past 8 years, I’ve ridden the roller-coaster of weight gain and weight loss in a perpetual effort to build muscle and bulk up. Over the course of that time, I’ve tried every workout imaginable, dozens of different protein and meal replacement shakes, good diets, bad diets, gained 18 pounds in 30 days, lost it all, and confused the hell out of my digestive system and body.
Before we get to where I’m at now, let’s see how it started.
After getting cut from the basketball team in my Junior year of high school, I signed up for a gym membership at the local gym. I spent two years there ‘lifting weights,’ although I never really knew what I was doing. I took advice from anybody willing to give it out, which unfortunately resulted in me getting pretty crappy tips from some pretty dumb people. I managed to survive these two years without killing myself, but I don’t think I put on a single pound.
That’s okay though, because I was headed to college soon! After all, everybody puts on the “freshman fifteen,” right?
Unfortunately, my time in the gym for four years of college was pretty much a monumental waste of time. Although I learned more about fitness and exercise, I blindly followed the muscle-building routines from muscle mags like an idiot. I worked out five or six days a week, chugged protein shakes like it was job, and STILL couldn’t put on my weight.
By blindly following those body building magazines and not actually doing any of my own research, I now realize I was doomed before I even started. At this point, I had all but given up on gaining weight – I just assumed it was impossible for guys like me.
After graduating from school, I moved out to San Diego with my brother, joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and finally overhauled my diet. I started drinking three Muscle Milk collegiate shakes a day, gallons of milk, ate pounds of spaghetti, peanut butter sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and meatball subs. I drastically scaled back my time in the gym and concentrated on eating all day every day.
In 30 days, I gained 18 pounds.
Looking back, I’d guess that it was probably 4 or 5 pounds of muscle, and 15 pounds of fat, water, and glycogen stored in my muscles.
I quickly realized that spending all day in a gym was a waste of time without a calorie surplus to stimulate growth. More calories eaten than burned = weight gain. I’m a pretty smart kid too, so I’m baffled as to why it took me like six years to figure this out.
As for what I did in the gym: my workouts centered around big movements (squats, bench presses, incline dumbbell presses, deadlifts, lat pulldowns, and shoulder presses). I kept my rep range between 8-12, minimized my time between sets, and really pumped my muscles up. It worked. If you want to see exactly what I my workout and diet during those thirty days, you can read my full article on how I gained 18 pounds in 30 days.
I looked better, got stronger, and finally managed to gain weight after years and years of failure. So what’s the problem? In the past eighteen months, I’ve become more educated on how the body functions with diet and fitness. I realized that I my plan of action to gain weight wasn’t the healthiest thing in the world.
This past summer, I was turned onto a book by Loren Cordain, The Paleo Diet. It really resonated with me, and I made the decision that constantly stuffing my face with 4000 calories of processed foods every day was a recipe for disaster. I finally gave up my Muscle Milk shakes and adopted a more Paleo Lifestyle. Not surprisingly, this change had a dramatic effect on my weight.
In the five months since switching up my diet, I’ve dropped from 180 lbs. back down to 162 lbs., essentially losing every pound that I fought so hard to keep for two years.
Initially I stepped on the scale, saw that my weight had dropped all the way back down, and got extremely frustrated. However, I then looked at a picture of myself from four years ago at 162, and a picture of myself NOW at 162. I have 8-10 pounds of muscle more on me, and 4-5% less body fat. I’m still thin, but I’m in much better shape, far stronger, and more muscular compared to a few years back. Most importantly, I’m not shoveling enormous quantities of processed foods, lab-created meal shakes, and gallons of milk down my throat.
Essentially, I’ve taken my life back, and I don’t have to spend all day every day eating. Win!
Despite feeling much better about my health these days, I would still like to pack on another 10-15 pounds of muscle. After all, if I’m going to run a fitness website I feel like I need to look the part. I know that I could order two tubs of Muscle Milk tomorrow, start crushing meatball subs from Subway, and fly right back up to 185 pounds in a matter of weeks – but that doesn’t really line up anymore with my long term plans of staying healthy, physically fit, and alive.
Instead, I’m going to try and build this muscle while maintaining a Paleo lifestyle. I think the biggest reason I’d like to try it with a Paleo diet is simply that I want to see if I can do it. I’m always up for a challenge, and doing it the old way is “been there, done that.” This is the plan:
Continue lifting heavy in the gym. I just picked up a copy of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, 2nd edition, and I’m excited to dig into really study the nuances of squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, and olympic lifts. I also ordered a weight-belt that will allow me to do weighted dips and chin ups. Essentially, I’m going to concentrate on getting stronger and stronger and not worry so much about my weight. After all, “appearance is a consequence of fitness,” and I figure the muscle will come in time.
Continue with my predominantly Paleo Diet. What I’ve realized over the past five months is that I just can’t find a way to eat enough calories while eating like this. There are a few things that I’ve been eating to maintain my current weight, and I don’t know if I can get away from them if I want to create a calorie surplus and pack on some muscle:
Honestly, I’m okay with this stuff in my diet. It’d be nice to go without it, but I haven’t had any issues WITH it, so I think finding a good balance of great healthy foods is most important.
Bringing back dairy into the equation? I like milk, I’m not lactose-intolerant in any way, and it would be extremely helpful for me to consume enough calories every day. If I do start drinking milk again, I’ll make sure it’s from healthy cows whenever possible. Essentially, I want to find a way to eat enough calories but doing so without packing my system with bad foods. I have a feeling I’ll be upping my intake of almonds and walnuts – loaded with protein, calories, and good fats.
Get some more damn sleep! I certainly don’t get enough sleep, as I dump all my free time and a lot of my sleep time into this site (not that I’m complaining, I love what I’m doing). This is something I often preach but never practice -sleep is one of the most important parts of getting in shape, losing weight, and/or building muscle.
I had a super productive Thanksgiving break, and I now have a BUNCH of kick-ass projects in the works that you’ll hear about soon. Because of these this, I’ve made the decision to post new articles on Nerd Fitness on Mondays and Thursdays for the time being. In a few months once I get these projects launched I hope to go back to three posts a week, so thanks for your patience guys.
Do we have any Paleo Dieters here? Has it worked for you? Any skinny guys that have bulked up on it and want to offer advice?
Let’s hear it!